Buccaneers, Explorers and Settlers: British Encounters and Enterprise in the Pacific, 1670-1800. Williams, Glyndwr. 2005

Williams, Glyndwr. 
Buccaneers, Explorers and Settlers: British Encounters and Enterprise in the Pacific, 1670-1800.
Ashgate Publishing Limited.
ISBN 0 860 78 967 5.

I have had the pleasure of meeting Glyn Williams a couple of times through the Captain Cook Society and he strikes me as one of those people I am always in awe of - quiet, but once you start talking to them they will always amaze you with their knowledge and intellect. Glyn has long been established as a world authority on the history of European exploration and culture contact, concentrating particularly on the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Not only is he an authority, he is also a prolific writer. The trouble with prolific writers is that they tend to write a lot of articles in obscure or hard to get hold of journals, so that only a few people benefit from their knowledge. This book goes some way, perhaps, in addressing this, reprinting as it does some of Glyn's articles.

This book is part of a series from Ashgate entitled the Variorum Collected Studies series. The purpose of this series is to bring together a selection of articles by a leading authority on a particular subject. For those of you who are interested in such things, they are printed on acid-free paper and are cloth bound for durability in library use. And I feel it will be libraries and the really dedicated who will buy this book as it is pricey. It is difficult to see it as value for money; I would much rather try and get the articles myself.

The book looks at British incursions in the Pacific and how this transformed Europe's knowledge of that great ocean. With a short introduction, there are seventeen articles, a number of which are concerned with Captain James Cook, but also enough on other subjects to give you a feel for the subject as a whole. My knowledge of Cook is sufficiently limited for me not to have spotted if there are any mistakes in the book - and there are plenty of footnotes and endnotes should you wish to explore anything further.
My main problem with this book is the style it is presented in. Let me hand over to the publisher to explain: "The articles in this volume, as in all others in the Variorum Collected Studies Series, have not been given a new, continuous pagination. In order to avoid confusion, and to facilitate their use where these same studies have been referred to elsewhere, the original pagination has been maintained wherever possible. Each article has been given a Roman number in order of appearance, as listed in the Contents. This number is repeated on each page and is quoted in the index entries."

I found this approach far too confusing, particularly when trying to look up something in the index. Yes, I can see it would be useful to a student who is coming to an article from another source, but not to the general reader, which makes me wonder who this book is aimed at. Another feature I found annoying was the fact that the articles are reprinted using their original font - this means there are seventeen articles that all look different. This might not matter to everyone but to my mind it doesn't look professional - and some of the older fonts are not that nice to look at!

I applaud Ashgate for trying to bring some fascinating articles to a wider audience, but I ended up feeling the book was definitely pitched towards the serious academic or university student, not someone like me who just wants to read more by Glyn Williams. Having said that, I did thoroughly enjoy the articles.

Ruth Boreham

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 27, volume 29, number 1 (2006).

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